You’ve heard the saying that bad things come in threes? Well, get ready for the triple whammy that will be the 2021 holiday season.
You’d be hard pressed to find a time when the global supply chain was such a topic of widespread conversation. Whether it’s on social media or network news, discussions about shortages are everywhere. And they’re only intensifying. Add to that the inescapable impacts of rising inflation and the worsening labor shortage, and you have a triple threat that stands to demonstrably impact the holiday season.
The good news is, with a little planning, it’s possible to lessen the impact these factors can have on your household finances. But it requires a thorough and clear-eyed examination of three key factors.
More are traveling
While the numbers are still a little lower than they were before the pandemic, both international and domestic flight searches are up dramatically over 2020 levels – up to 212% higher in some cases, according to online travel agency Kayak.
While on the surface that would appear to be a sign of a return to normalcy, in reality it’s likely a portent of higher prices, last minute delays, and possible cancellations. One key factor is the rising price of oil, which recently closed at a seven-year high of $80 a barrel. That makes it hard for airlines to compensate without passing those higher prices on to consumers. Many travelers have already noticed stark increases over flight prices from just a few months ago.
And even if you’re able to afford a ticket, there’s still the chance that a scheduled flight won’t take place as planned. In a dramatic shift for an industry that struggled with a labor surplus as little as a year ago due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the airline industry is struggling with a severe labor shortage. In October alone, Southwest canceled roughly 2,000 flights, at an operational cost of $75 million. August saw Spirit Airlines cancel 2,800 flights, citing a lack of qualified workers. And this was all before the holiday surge.
That said, the airlines are hoping to mitigate the damage somewhat. In a recent staff memo, American Airlines said it expects to gain 4,000 new employees this quarter, while also recalling nearly 1,800 flight attendants from long-term leave. Similarly, Southwest is targeting 5,000 new hires by year-end.
Food prices up
We’ve all experienced the occasional bare shelf at the grocery store lately, which is the result of everything from truck driver shortages to supply chain issues. And the goods that remain are steadily gaining in price. In October, the consumer price index for food rose nearly 1% from August to September 2021 and 5.4% from September 2020. That’s a problem in a year when people are planning larger holiday gatherings to compensate for last year’s smaller celebrations.
The cost of a whole turkey (between 8 and 16 pounds) has nearly doubled since 2019, according to a 2021 Wells Fargo report, citing both increased demand and reduced production. This drastic increase serves as a microcosm of what shoppers can expect to find at the supermarket as they lay out their holiday food plan. And it merits some planning – and shopping – ahead. If you’re one of those who puts off getting all your holiday ingredients until a day or two before the meal, you may want to rethink your strategy. Logistical problems getting product to stores will mean many items will run out sooner than expected.
If you haven’t already ordered your Christmas gifts this year, you’re essentially playing catch-up. A survey conducted in early October by Morning Consult found about 50% of U.S. shoppers got an early start to their 2021 holiday shopping. Even so, many of them are still having trouble finding goods. The survey showed that 51% of early shoppers reported that stores were out of at least one item they were looking for and 54% said a product they wanted was out of stock online. And 49% are having to wait on back-ordered or delayed delivery of an early purchase.
And mirroring the issue with supermarkets, scarcity is only part of the problem. U.S. consumer prices jumped 6.2% in October compared with a year ago, as food, gas, and housing costs surged under the highest inflation rate in 30 years.
That spike in prices has been fueled in large part by robust consumer demand – demand that’s been increasingly hard to meet due to pandemic-related shutdowns of overseas factories. In a desperate bid to keep workers, America’s employers have also been raising wages and then passing those labor costs on in the form of higher prices.
And it’s not limited to the big chains. According to a new survey from Business.org, 82% of small businesses raised their prices as a direct result of rising rate of inflation.
Don’t let holiday hiccups force you into bad decisions.
For all three factors listed above, proper planning and effective budgeting are key.
If flying this holiday season, use your airline’s app to keep track of your flight status. Not only can it let you know everything from a gate change to a delay or cancellation, it can also help with rescheduling if necessary. Also, try to schedule morning flights if possible. Delays compound throughout the day, so you have a better chance of being accommodated on a same-day flight if you were originally scheduled to leave early. And while it’s not always possible, it’s always a good idea to have a plan B. For example, if your destination is drivable, have a car at the ready.
When it comes to both food and gift planning, the number one piece of advice for consumers would be to make a budget and stick with it. While it might be tempting to lean more heavily on credit cards and debt to compensate for this year’s higher prices, it’s never a good idea to spend more than you can readily afford.
Set a strict spending limit for yourself that allows you cover regular expenses while staying within your means. Also, research prices to get a better idea of where you need to allocate your dollars. And finally, don’t be afraid to cut down on your gift-giving list. After all, everyone’s dealing with the same economic realities this year. Something as simple as some baked goodies or a homemade gift can be enough to remind people you care.
In tightening economic times, sticking close to a budget becomes even more important. The holidays are notorious for nudging otherwise responsible spenders into impulse purchases. But keeping your eyes on the long-term prize and avoiding adding to your debt this holiday season may be the best gift you can give yourself.
Jennifer Pagliara, CFP, CTFA, is an executive vice president and financial adviser at CapWealth and a proud member of the millennial generation. Her column speaks to her peers and anyone else that wants to get ahead financially. For more information about Pagliara, visit capwealthgroup.com.